Satellite schooling unites rural children
17 August 2005
Three children living thousands of miles apart in rural Australia are participating in an online school art class: a student near Dubbo uses graphics software to draw the legs of a bird; a child just across the border in
This interactive learning environment has been made possible by new satellite-based communications being developed by University researchers from the Faculty of Education and Social Work in conjunction with Optus, NSW Department of Education and Training, and the Northern Territory Department of Employment, Education and Training.
Pictured: A School of the Air student uses a two-way radio. Photo: Postcard photos, Steve Strike, Pamela Butler.
“Our interactive e-learning project will transform a distance learning experience into that found in a mainstream classroom,” said Associate Professor Stephen Crump who, with his team of researchers including Professor Peter Goodyear, has been awarded a $484,000 ARC Linkage Grant over four years to investigate the teaching and learning issues accompanying remote schooling. “The shift from radio-based learning to satellite delivery will bring with it greater interaction and a more social experience for the students, their teachers and the students’ parents,” he explained.
In 1951, Flying Doctor two-way radio equipment was used to create the world’s first School of the Air which to this day educates children living in isolated areas of Australia. The school uses high frequency radio, with most of the curriculum being covered by correspondence lessons that teachers prepare and mail to their students. The researchers are looking at the change-over from radio, paper and post to interactive satellite delivery.
The ‘Opening Our Eyes’ project will investigate what happens when children to log on to a live, interactive lesson led by a teacher. Using two-way satellite technologies to deliver broadband Internet protocol services, the system will include real-time streaming video, graphics, full duplex audio, two-way data interaction and application sharing. “For the first time, students will be able to watch demonstrations and view video-clips, PowerPoint slides, close-up images from a document camera, graphic illustrations and computer animations,” explained Professor Crump.
He believes that the transition will mark the end of isolation for many parents and their children. “Students will now be able to see their teacher every day rather than twice a year.” Moreover, the children will become computer experts, he added, with $14,000 worth of technology at their fingertips.
Extensive research has been conducted on distance education in Australia but not into the impact of new learning technologies on distance education outcomes. “We need to examine in what ways teaching and learning processes will be affected by these technological changes,” said Professor Crump.
A pilot study of the satellite delivery innovation has recently been completed, with 3,700 users including students and parents on remote stations and people in isolated Aboriginal communities benefiting from the technology. “Interactive distance e-learning adds vision to sound in the delivery of distance education that, according to our respondents, has all but ended the tyranny of distance,” explained Professor Crump. The visual component of the system is especially significant to indigenous children who may struggle with written English .